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An Elegant Puzzle (Part 3) (Chapter 5)

I’m continuing to read an Elegant Puzzle and chapter 5 discusses organizational culture. I think it provides some good actionable and concrete ways to think about culture, and most discussion I’ve seen about culture suggests that it is some mostly ineffable quality.


Will also thinks culture is difficult to reason about, but suggests two major components for fostering an inclusive organization: opportunity and membership. An inclusive organization is one in which individuals have access to professional success and development.


This is “having access to professional success and development.” He says the most effective way to provide opportunity is to have regular processes that people can understand, trust, and leverage.

This comes from:

  • Rubrics for personnel evaluation (AF has this, but they’re very flexible)
  • Structured selection of project leaders - like, rotating these opportunities
  • Explicit budgets - specify how many training events you’ll pay for for a team/individual in a year, for instance
  • Nudge involvement - many people won’t be comfortable asking for things so encourage them. Or - maybe make public the lists of people taking these opportunities.
  • Have ongoing education programs.


This is “participating as a version of themselves that they feel comfortable with.”

Membership is a precondition for people feeling like they belong. It is having a community at work. That last one in opportunity kinda bleeds into this one:

  • Recurring weekly events - socially, during work hours, open for many to attend but optional. 90th does this in several ways already.
  • Employee resource groups - these are groups for folks with similar backgrounds, so they can build communities.
  • Team off-sites - work differently once a quarter
  • Coffee chats - perhaps randomly assigned, “get folks from different teams interacting when they don’t need something from each other”, slightly different than the CC coffee chats, but a cool idea
  • Team lunches - maybe org once a week


But how well are those working? I can see how some of these are unlikely to be terribly popular - coffee chats, for instance, I think few would be interested in. Especially since an AF squadron isn’t huge. But I don’t have to guess, I can measure how often people lead projects or work on projects, I can measure how many people attend lunches over time, I can get feedback about the quality of events.

He suggests publicly recording who has led projects, later. This is interesting - it helps solve the problem of making sure you rotate leadership, it helps transparency about project leadership, it makes it easier to figure out who to get in touch with, and it automatically rewards people who like seeing their name on things.

Kill the Hero

Will talks about something similar to a Brent from The Phoenix Project. He suggests that the hero programmer (Brent) will be killed by burnout, or you need to kill the environment that breeds them. I don’t see many suggestions for how to deal with this situation in this section though - besides “admit that you screwed up” and reset the situation.

Ok - I think that’s a good idea, but I prefer the way Phoenix Project looks at this.

Exploit and Subordinate the Constraint

You’ve identified the production constraint - everyone is relying on your hero and there isn’t enough of her to go around, so your hero is the constraint. You need to exploit the constraint next - make sure the constraint is not wasting resources, make sure she gets what she needs immediately so she’s not waiting for something. Then you need to subordinate the process to the constraint - improve efficiency by limiting her to working on the highest priority things. Do not let everyone drag her around and use them at their whim. Do not simply pour more things into her backlog, groom the backlog and put only the highest priority things in there. Do not put more in the backlog than can be handled, put that in other peoples’ backlogs.

A better look at the theory of constraints, from The Goal, which is where The Phoenix Project discussion comes from - https://www.leanproduction.com/theory-of-constraints/


This was a great book overall and it was a great recommendation.